Monday 11 August 2008

Race and Beauty

Coming from a British South Asian background, the concept of beauty can often be confused and to my mind very limited. Beautiful is fair, beautiful is large eyes and small lips and long black hair. Anything else is flawed. Black cannot be beautiful, white is better.

I’ve looked over this whole issue with distant disapproval until it was brought home to me by my daughter. I asked her to wear a sun hat and she asked if it was to stop her getting dark like one of her African friends. I explained to her, that the little girl in question is beautiful, that Allah (SWT) made her that way because He thought she would be most beautiful with the skin and hair she has. It bothers me though that she is picking up these false pointers as to what constitutes beauty.

It also affects Little Man. He has a Mediterranean colouring with skin that is dark gold, brown hair, a perfect nose and enormous lips. My Arab friend thinks he’s Arab and my Bangladeshi friends insist he is Bengali. When he was born, a kind relation branded him ugly. In the meantime, big lips have come into vogue with the likes of Angelina Jolie and Priyanka Chopra having them. This being the case, I find that the younger generation (both here and Pakistan) are more likely to find him beautiful, whereas the older generation compare him to Little Lady and feel that he falls short. Personally, I adore his golden colouring, but then I’m his mum. I just hope he doesn’t pick up on this nonsense or that it affects his confidence or self-image.

To be honest, there are some signs of improvement. Indian films are starting to user some darker-skinned actresses in contrast to previous years when leading ladies had to be painted white with heavy foundation. But the dominance of creams such as Fair and Lovely point to the fact that any headway is limited. Then there are my in-laws in Pakistan. They kept pointing to girls and saying “isn’t she beautiful”, I’d have a good stare and realise many weren’t really beautiful, just very pale. I like to think of Heer, the greatest of the Punjabi folk-heroines, as a counterbalance to this obsession. She is described as having perfect features and dark skin.

Of course, I am a big believer in inner beauty. But Allah created the physical and if we open our minds to it, there is so much to appreciate and feast our eyes on – the shades of her skin, the textures of our hair, the shapes of our features and the unique beauty of each of our sisters. If we brand half the world ugly because they don’t fit into a Bollywood template, than we are just celebrating our stupidity.

(Funnily enough, after I wrote this (last week) I found this article in the Independent about the Beyonce/L'Oreal skin-lightening issue - the comments are especially interesting as many people seem to think that race isn't an issue any more).


  1. that article in the Independant was really good -i agree that you see everywhere that light =attractive and dark=not attractive but this is clearly not the case as looking around in day to day life proves it

  2. nice post, peoples all differ on what they percieve as beautiful.

  3. Salaams lss,
    I knew you would agree with me, cause you know I know better.

    Assalam-alaikam Sister Rainbow,
    I totally agree, thats why it's sometimes odd who people are attracted too. London is a good example, it seems to have more and more mixed-race/culture marriages than anywhere else.